Beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday, residents of St. George Island and Dog Island, Alligator Point and Bald Point are advised that a voluntary evacuation is in place.
County commissioners voted unanimously to back a voluntary evacuation of these areas beginning Wednesday, and to close county offices Thursday and Friday, after hearing a report from Jennifer Daniels, coordinator of the emergency operations center, on details surrounding the upcoming arrival of Hurricane Ian, slated to make landfall somewhere around the Port Charlotte area on Wednesday afternoon.
In his motion to request the voluntary evacuation, Commissioner Smokey Parrish stressed that residents and visitors are not required to leave, but will be made aware that in the event that sustained winds exceed 40 mph, the bridges will be ordered closed.
“Unless it changes track I don’t see them getting blown away over there, but if they feel uncomfortable staying, I think we should encourage a voluntary evacuation,” he said.
“Give them that option and let them go if they want to,” said Sheriff A.J. Smith. “If somebody stays and there’s an emergency, they’re going to be on their own. We’re not going to put our deputies’ lives in danger if it’s crazy.”
In her report, Daniels outlined a scenario where beginning Wednesday afternoon, winds would pick up and could reach tropical storm force on Thursday and Friday of 40 to 45 mph. “That’s not sustained winds, that’s wind gusts,” she said.
She said the county could expect 1 to 3 inches of rain, and storm surges of 1 to 3 feet, which during high tide, could be considered 4 to 6 feet.
“It (Ian) is supposed to slow way down before it makes landfall,” Daniels said. “It’s 210 miles wide; he’s a very large storm. Right now he’s still a Category 3 but he will be a 4 before the night’s over.”
The commissioners declared a local state of emergency, which is typical in these situations since it is a prerequisite for the county to qualify for storm-related monies.
Commissioner Jessica Ward moved that the county shut down its offices on Thursday and Friday, a decision that does not extend to constitutional officers, who are likely to follow suit.
“My concern is with the wind gusts,” Ward said. “You’re going to have water on the road, and in past experiences we all know what a little bit of rain can do to the roadways. My concern is transportation-wise on a flooded road.”
Clerk of Courts Michele Maxwell said the chief judge of the circuit has the final say on whether to close courthouse judicial functions, and he is expected to rule on that soon.
The Franklin County Schools remain open Wednesday, while the Apalachicola Bay Charter School closed Wednesday. Both will be closed Thursday and Friday.
In seconding Ward’s motion, Commissioner Noah Lockley said he was concerned about possible bridge closures.
“You have people working for the county who have to cross three bridges, sometimes two,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good decision to get people over here and then they get landlocked. Why take a chance? Our job is public safety.”
Smith noted that if wind speeds dictate bridge closure, then it will apply to everyone. “If it’s dire, we might be able to take our truck across,” he said. “At 40 mph the St. George Island bridge will be shut down, nobody on or off. The ambulance threshold is even less.”
Daniels told commissioners that the county ambulances stop running at even lower wind speed. “They park them at 35 mph if I’m not mistaken,” she said.